Tag Archive: knowledge

The problem of the growth of knowledge

Thus I see the problem of knowledge in a different way from that of my predecessors. Security and justification of claims to knowledge are not my problem. Instead, my problem is the growth of knowledge: in which sense can we speak of the growth or the progress of knowledge, and how can we achieve it? [37]

The freedom to come up with different answers

Poppers Botschaft ist klar. „Wir können nicht wissen“, sagt er, „wir können nur mutmaßen.“ Da keine wissenschaftliche Theorie endgültig beweibar ist, kommt es darauf an, immer erneut und mit ganzer Kraft zu prüfen, ob akzeptierte Theo­rien falsch sind, irrig oder widerlegt. Um dies zu tun, müssen wir die Bedingungen rationaler, kritischer Auseinander­setzung aufrechterhalten, unter denen es möglich bleibt, verschiedener Auffassung zu sein. Was für unser Wissen gilt, gilt auch für unser Verhalten und unsere Politik. Da niemand alle Antworten kennt, müssen wir vor allem sicherstellen, daß es möglich bleibt, unterschiedliche Antworten zu geben. [13]

The independence of World 3

Among the inmates of my ‘third world’ [World 3] are, more especially, theoretical systems; but inmates just as important are problems and problem situations. And I will argue that the most important inmates of this world are critical argu­ments, and what may be called—in analogy to a physical state or to a state of consciousness—the state of a discussion or the state of a critical argument; and, of course, the contents of journals, books and libraries. …

Let me repeat one of my standard arguments for the (more or less) independent existence of the third world [World 3].

I consider two thought experiments:

Experiment (1). All our machines and tools are destroyed, and all our subjective learning, including our subjective knowledge of machines and tools, and how to use them. But libraries and our capacity to learn from them survive. Clearly, after much suffering, our world may get going again.

Experiment (2). As before, machines and tools are destroyed, and our subjective learning, including our subjective knowledge of machines and tools, and how to use them. But this time, all libraries are destroyed also, so that our ca­pacity to learn from books becomes useless.

If you think about these two experiments, the reality, significance, and degree of autonomy of the third world [World 3] (as well as its effects on the second and first worlds [Worlds 2 and 1]) may perhaps become a little clearer to you. For in the second case, there will be no re-emergence of our civilization for many millenia. [107-8]

Reducing mental to physical states

If mental entities or, better, mental states should exist—and I myself do not doubt that the do exist—then positing mental states is necessary for any true explanation of them; and shoud they one day be reduced to physical states, then this will be a tremendous success. [293]

Provoking the ‘belief philosophers’

In upholding an objective third world [World 3] I hope to provoke those whom I call ‘belief philosophers’: those who, like Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, or Russell, are interested in our subjective beliefs, and their basis or origin. Against these belief philosophers I urge that our problem is to find better and bolder theories; and that critical pre­ference counts, but not belief. [107]

Nonsensical common sense

The commonsense theory of knowledge (which I have also dubbed ‘the bucket theory of the mind’) is the theory most famous in the form of the assertion that ‘there is nothing in our intellect which has not entered it through the senses’. (I have tried to show that this view was first formulated by Parmenides—in a satirical vein: Most mortals have nothing in their erring intellect unless it got there through their erring senses.) [3]

The subjectivist blunder of common-sense knowledge

The phenomenon of human knowledge is no doubt the greatest miracle in our universe. It constitutes a problem that will not soon be solved, and I am far from thinking that the preset volume makes even a small contribution to its solution. But I hope that I have helped to restart a discussion which for three centuries has been bogged down in preliminaries.

Since Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, and their school, which includes not only David Hume but also Thomas Reid, the theory of human knowledge has been largely subjectivist: knowledge has been regarded as a specially secure kind of human belief, and scientific knowledge as a specially secure kind of human knowledge.

The essays in this book break with a tradition that can be traced back to Aristotle—the tradition of this commonsense theory of knowledge. I am a great admirer of common sense which, I assert, is essentially selfcritical. But while I am prepared to uphold to the last the essential truth of commonsense realism, I regard the commonsense theory of knowledge as a subjectivist blunder. This blunder has dominated Western philosophy. I have made an attempt to eradicate it, and to replace it by an objective theory of essentially conjectural knowledge. This may be a bold claim but I do not apologize for it. [Preface]

Absolutely authoritarianism-free absolutism

The idea of a philosophical absolutism is rightly repugnant to many people since it is, as a rule, combined with a dog­matic and authoritarian claim to possess the truth, or a criterion of truth.

But there is another form of absolutism—a fallibilistic absolutism—which indeed rejects all this: it merely asserts that our mistakes, at least, are absolute mistakes, in the sense that if a theory deviates from the truth, it is simply false, even if the mistake made was less glaring than that in another theory. Thus the notions of truth, and of falling short of the truth, can represent absolute standards for the fallibilist. This kind of absolutism is completely free from any taint of authori­tarianism. [Addenda, 567-8]

Truth is above human authority

If only we look for it we can often find a true idea, worthy of being preserved, in a philosophical theory which must be rejected as false. Can we find an idea like this in one of the theories of the ultimate sources of our knowledge?

I believe we can; and I suggest that it is one of the two main ideas which underlie the doctrine that the source of all our knowledge is super-natural. The first of these ideas is false, I believe, while the second is true.

The first, the false idea, is that we must justify our knowledge, or our theories, by positive reasons, that is, by reasons capable of establishing them, or at least of making them highly probable; at any rate, by better reasons than that they have so far withstood criticism. This idea implies, I suggested, that we must appeal to some ultimate or authoritative source of true knowledge; which still leaves open the character of that authority–whether it is human, like observation or reason, or super-human (and therefore supernatural).

The second idea—whose vital importance has been stressed by Russell—is that no man’s authority can establish truth by decree; that we should submit to truth; that truth is above human authority.

Taken together these two ideas almost immediately yield the conclusion that the sources from which our knowledge derives must be super-human; a conclusion which tends to encourage self-righteousness and the use of force against those who refuse to see the divine truth.

Some who rightly reject this conclusion do not, unhappily, reject the first idea—the belief in the existence of ultimate sources of knowledge. Instead they reject the second idea—the thesis that truth is above human authority. They thereby endanger the idea of the objectivity of knowledge, and of common standards of criticism or rationality. [38-9]

What argument can do

No argument can force us to accept the truth of any belief. But a valid deductive argument can force us to choose be­tween the truth of its conclusion on the one hand and the falsity of its premises on the other. [10]

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